Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV2)
Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV) is a highly contagious and fatal disease affecting both domestic and wild rabbits. This second strain, RHDV2, is currently spreading throughout the southwest United States. As of May 17, 2020, Lampasas County, about 75 miles northwest of Austin, recorded the closest confirmed case to Houston.
The disease gives little warning signs and turns fatal very quickly. If your rabbit passes away of an unknown cause, please take your rabbit to see your veterinarian immediately to determine if RHDV2 was a cause.
How it is spread
RHDV2 is highly contagious. Like the COVID-19 virus that we humans are battling, it can live on surfaces and items and carry the virus into your home. Because the disease only affects rabbits, not other animals or humans, it is difficult to track where or how it is transferred.
The contamination occurs when a rabbit comes into direct contact with an infected rabbit or with its urine or feces. However, if another animal, insect, bird of prey, etc., comes into contact with an infected rabbit, it can also carry the disease to a healthy rabbit.
The disease can also be transferred on your clothes or shoes. Contaminated food (including hay, pellets, and greens) or water can also carry the disease.
What you can do to protect your rabbit(s)
There are a number of biosecurity measures that we recommend you implement to protect your rabbit(s).
First, keep your rabbits indoors at all times. If you allow your rabbit supervised outdoor play time, stop doing so immediately. Rabbits exposed outside are at a greater risk of contaminating the disease.
Don’t let your rabbit come into physical contact with other rabbits from outside your home. All our foster rabbits will be placed into a 2-week quarantine (the length of the incubation period) until we can be sure they are not infected. They will also be vaccinated before being adopted out.
Wash your hands before handling your rabbit. If you visit somewhere that other rabbits might be, such as a pet store, veterinary clinic, or animal shelter, change out of your clothes and wash them thoroughly before you wear them around your rabbit.
Be sure to clean and disinfect your rabbit’s space frequently, especially if you also have dogs or cats that go outside who may track the disease into your home. If you use bleach, remove your rabbit from the vicinity while you are cleaning. Dry all surfaces completely before letting your rabbit return to that space.
We also recommend researching the source of the hay and pellets that you buy. If they are sourced in areas where the disease has been confirmed, purchase your hay from a different vendor.
However, the strongest and most effective protection against your rabbit contracting RHDV2 is to vaccinate them.
Though the only accessible vaccine is not currently licensed in the US, veterinarians can work with the USDA-APHIS’s Center for Veterinary Biologics to acquire a special permit to import it. We have successfully done that and have ordered the RHDV2 vaccine. It will be administered by Gulf Coast Veterinary Specialists for the greater Houston area. If you answered Bunny Buddies’ Facebook survey about wanting the vaccine, then you don’t need to do anything—GCVS has your email address and will contact you when the vaccine arrives. If you did not (or were unable to) reply to the survey but want to get your rabbit(s) vaccinated, please email GCVS at email@example.com with the subject line RHDV2 Vaccine, and include your name, phone number, and the number of rabbits you are requesting to be vaccinated. (Please do not call them. We don’t want to overwhelm their phone system.)
There will be a $75 deposit per rabbit required. The exact price of the vaccine is not yet known, but the maximum amount will be $75. If it is less, then the remainder of the deposit will go toward the required exam for each rabbit. If your rabbit has been seen at GCVS in the past year, they will not need an exam. We’re still trying to work out a system through which your rabbit will not need another exam if your it has had an exam with another veterinarian in the last year. However, whether or not that will happen is still up in the air.
It is important to note that the vaccine is not a guarantee of protection; it helps rabbits survive exposure to the disease which would otherwise be certainly fatal. The vaccine is required to be administered annually to continue protection against RHDV. Also, because of how the vaccine is made, some people may not want to use it due to the ethics of its development.
We cannot make the decision to vaccinate for you. We can say that we plan to vaccinate all rabbits in our foster care. Please do your own research and learn as much as you can about the virus and vaccine so you can make the best decision for your rabbit(s).